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A Welcoming Job Opportunity
December 15, 2015
education, jobs, workforce
Karen Schexnayder

A Welcoming Job Opportunity

The state of Florida and Nassau County welcomed a record-breaking number of visitors this past year.  For many visitors, their first impression is the Welcome Center located on I-95, just north of the A1A/SR200 exit in Nassau County.  Making sure the Welcome Center is in pristine condition is no easy feat, but for five clients from Ark of Nassau, it’s a job they take great pride in doing.

“We (Ark of Nassau) competed for this contract because it allows for gainful employment for our clients who would otherwise never find it elsewhere,” said Dawn Rhoden, director of operations.  “Our clients are low-functioning, but are excited to work and have a purpose.”  The five clients of Ark of Nassau, are paid minimum wage and work approximately six hours a week.  The team members have a uniform and name badge, which Rhoden said they are proud to wear.  The job teaches both job and life skills.

This month marks the third anniversary of an eight-year set-aside contract Ark of Nassau has with RESPECT of Florida who oversees the janitorial and grounds-keeping services at both the I-95 Welcome Center and the Florida Department of Transportations’ northbound and southbound Weigh Stations, located in Nassau County.  FDOT serves as the RESPECT of Florida’s customer.  “When the contract last went to bid, we won because of our track record,” added Rhoden.  The RESPECT team is part of a 20-25 member group responsible for both the Welcome Center and Weigh Stations.

Ark of Nassau provides programs and services for individuals with developmental disabilities who are 18 years and older and reside in Nassau County.  The organization is a nonprofit, primarily serving individuals with cerebral palsy, autism, spina bifida, and other mental and physical disabilities.  Currently, Ark of Nassau serves 22 clients. 

RESPECT of Florida is designated by the Florida Department of Management Services to administer Florida’s State Use Program, which mandates a purchasing preference for RESPECT that is contingent on insuring that the goods and services provided by Floridians with disabilities are offered at competitive prices — and that RESPECT employment programs do in fact benefit this demographic.  Both Ark of Nassau and RESPECT of Florida are designated as 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations.

According to Candy Holloway, executive director for Ark of Nassau, they are responsible for transporting their RESPECT team to and from their job. 

Holloway and Rhoden shared a story about one of the clients who is a part of the RESPECT team.  “He is so excited to have a job he wakes his mother up every morning around 5 o’clock.  He doesn’t need to be on the job till 10:00 am, but it is this type of excitement that makes he and his co-workers excellent employees.  “They have a tremendous work ethic.  There is no revolving door because they are so happy to have a job.  Our folks are very goal-oriented,” exclaimed Rhoden. 
“We know the team is in good hands once they arrive on the job.  Their supervisor, Wendy Castillo, feels strongly for those who work for her.  She knows she can count on them to do the job they are required to do and takes great pride in her training and the work they perform,” commented Holloway.  “She has 20 years of supervisory experience and I’m very pleased with her ability to coach our clients.” 

The Weigh Stations have received two Best Inspection Scores for a three-month period and the Welcome Center has won a Best Grounds award where the Ark of Nassau team competed with 20 other RESPECT locations in District 2. 

“This year we proposed three employee nominations to RESPECT of Florida and although they did not win overall, they are our winners and were appropriately recognized,” beamed Rhoden.  Nominated for Employee of the Year for Service is Michael Bentley, nominated for Rookie of the Year is Kevin Stohl, and nominated for Most Improved Employee of the Year is James Baker.

“Looking back over our DOT scores for each site, we have maintained a 100% since October 2013,” added Rhoden.  “Ark provides a quarterly award to our RESPECT Team members if inspection scores are maintained above a score of 92%. This small gift-card token of appreciation makes such a difference to our team. Keeping the Welcome Center and Weigh Stations clean and well-maintained impacts public wellness and safety and as you can see, our RESPECT Team members go above and beyond!”


The NCEDB exists because of the generous support of the Nassau County Board of Commissioners, our local municipalities and economic development partners.
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